Sunday 26th April.
Today I woke up in my own bed, in my cottage, at home, and I can honestly say I have never in my entire life felt such happiness.
Home. Such a small word but right now just saying the word and typing it out H. O. M. E. I am physically shaking and my heart is actually bursting.
Why? Because I have just spent two days travelling through 5 airports to get home from Malaysia, where I got stuck due to Covid 19. I can honestly say I have never in my entire life been this happy.
Rewind to Tuesday 14th January where I was beyond excited packing my case to head off on a long overdue holiday to visit an old school friend in Malaysia! At that time I was anxious about connecting flights and just the general stresses of airports but after what I’ve been through in the past week that was a walk in the park!
I’m trying to remember if I was even aware of Covid19 when I initially travelled and I honestly can’t recall. I think the first time I became aware of it was in January when we travelled to Johor for Chinese New Year with my friend and her family. I had started to see more and more reports of it on social media but up until then it hadn’t really affected us. We had arranged a day trip to Singapore during this trip and tried to get masks everywhere but there were none to be had. I remember feeling really anxious about travelling, and we were all very conscious about washing hands, using sanitizer and not touching things. It was the first time I went through immigration and a body temperature monitor. Apart from that, we had a lovely day and I don’t think I gave it much thought until we returned to Kuching.
That was when things really changed. Notifications were appearing on social media at local schools and churches advising people to wear masks, notify us if you have travelled to China, don’t come in if you feel unwell etc We started to wear masks at my friend’s workplace and the hand washing started. Then it seemed to settle down again and I travelled to Australia in February to see my brother and his family. There were no issues with travel. I did wear a mask but looking back I don’t think I was overly concerned. Aside from the man in the aisle opposite me that coughed and sneezed for the duration of the flight and the crazy guy in front of me off his head, who half way through the flight told me he had drugs in his bag and didn’t know how he was going to get it past immigration. Seriously, this shit only happens to me !?! Bridget Jones eat your heart out !! At immigration everyone was asked if you had travelled to China in the last few weeks but that was it. I arrived in Sydney to torrential rain but eventually the sun came out and I had a lovely normal holiday with my brother and his family. Then as it got closer to the time for me to return to Malaysia there were more and more reports of Covid 19 and talks about travel being affected. On my flight back to Malaysia I wore a mask again, and this time the majority of people on the flight were wearing them too. I had to complete a form declaring where I had been travelling and providing contact details but there was no talk then about self isolating. I returned to Kuching and things went back to normal.
Then I got sick! My flight home was March 14th but I was so sick I couldn’t even get out of bed, let alone get to the airport. I have no idea what it was, whether it was Covid, I had all symptoms apart from shortness of breath. I did go to see a doctor who said it was viral and prescribed antibiotics and medicine. It’s nothing like anything I’ve ever had before. All I can say is my entire body ached and I had extreme fatigue. I didn’t leave my bed for several days and I didn’t eat. The latter of which any of my friends and family can confirm is a rare thing believe me. So, I missed my flight home. I thought, no problem I’ll just book another one. Yes it was an expense, approx €400 for a single flight but little did I know then, that was peanuts to what I was going to pay.
From then on everything started changing rapidly.
On March 16th, the Prime Minister of Malaysia Muhyiddin Yassin made a televised speech and announced that the country would be under a Movement Control Order (MCO) from March 18th. This basically meant we were in Lockdown. Nobody was allowed to leave their homes, only the head of the household for essentials. All travel was banned and a curfew was implemented. There were police guarded roadblocks and constant news reports of people being arrested for breaking the MCO. Whilst it sounds scary I will honestly say I felt safe. It was because of that I thought, initially that I would just stick out the two weeks lockdown and then try to get home but then it was extended twice and with each extension my window to get home got smaller and smaller.
March 16th was the last day I left the house I was staying in until Friday, 24th April, when I started my journey home.
I was staying in my friend’s house and as I said, I felt safe. I was impressed by the Malaysian government and how quickly they implemented the MCO and how serious they were taking things. I was anxious about flying and felt I would be going from the safety net of lockdown to the eye of the storm. My mum is a severe asthmatic and I did not want to risk ‘getting it’ and bringing it home. It was a hard decision, and I know my family and friends were keen for me to go home then but I thought I was better to stay where I was. On top of all that I was petrified about being put in quarantine. I had read horror stories online about it happening to people trying to get home. I still can’t really explain why. I had spent weeks on lockdown in my friend’s house and to be honest, didn’t have enough hours in the day to do all the things I wanted. I was painting, sewing, recording content for my you tube channel, doing online courses. I filled each day no problem. But the thoughts of being locked in a room under government quarantine genuinely terrified me so I stayed where I was. I registered online early on with the Irish embassy and they called me and advised me to get home as soon as possible but once I explained about my fear of quarantine the lady I spoke to agreed that that was my biggest risk as I had to fly via Kuala Lumpar where they were putting everyone on arrival into government quarantine. She said she would keep in touch with me and see if things would change but always reiterated, each time she spoke to me, that the advice was to get home as soon as possible.
The last week is a bit of a blur. One minute I was sitting outside my friend’s house enjoying the sun on my face and then I was in this whirlwind of phone calls with the embassy, airlines and my family making the decision to try and get home. Flights were being cancelled left right and centre and airlines dropping like flies. A few weeks ago I had so many choices, whereas now there was only 2 options. Both costing over €2,000. Another issue I had was getting from Kuching to Kuala Lumpar – there was only 1 flight a week and the flights from Kuala Lumpar to London were flying on different days. I had to wait until I could fly into and out of Kuala Lumpar on the same day to avoid quarantine so it was like a game of chess getting the right flights. Eventually I found my move, booked the flights and had less than two days to get things arranged. To say I was stressed is an understatement. All that was on my mind was quarantine though. I wasn’t thinking of getting from A to B all I was thinking of was avoiding that. Because of that my hand luggage was the most thought out packing ever! My priority was things to do rather than what to wear. I filled it with paper, pencils, sewing and anything creative that I could do if the worst happened. I had my sewing needles in all sorts of places in case they were taken off me, surely I’d manage to get one through. I knew I could bring a scissors so I pre-cut the fabric with what I knew I would need and I brought a pencil sharpener to use the blade to cut my thread. This may be amusing to some people but when I say sewing saved my life I’m not exaggerating. Ok saved my sanity! It’s what kept me going the entire time of lockdown, and what kept me going whilst sitting for hours in the airports.
If had a heart monitor on now you would see my heart racing all of a sudden because I’m now getting to the part about the actual journey home. I kid you not, my hands are shaking as I type this. I can honestly say without a shadow of a doubt I was petrified. I know, in the big scheme of things, being put into quarantine isn’t the worst of things but for some reason that was my biggest fear.
I had my letter from the embassy providing “My safe passage” and was advised to carry it with me at all times. It had all my flight details on it and apparently that was what was needed if I were stopped by immigration – I had to prove I had onward flights booked. On the morning of my first flight (Friday 24th April) my friend drove me to the airport where we were stopped by armed police. It was like being in a movie! Thankfully I had all my paperwork so we were ok to get to the airport. Once we got there I checked in my luggage and got all my boarding passes except the London to Dublin one, which they told me I could collect in Kuala Lumpar. It was a very tearful goodbye. We had just spent 37 days together in a house, something I don’t think either of us will ever forget. I have been promising her for 26 years, since she moved to Malaysia, that I would visit and I think we have more than made up for that time. I will never forget it Edel I had the best of times with you during the worst time x
Kuching airport was eerily quiet and everyone on my flight was wearing a mask and or gloves and a few people were in full on hazmat suits. It was very strange. On arrival in Kuala Lumpar I made my way to the transit area only to be met by darkness and armed police and told to make my way out via the baggage claim area. The one place I was told by the Embassy to avoid at all costs or I would be put into quarantine. I tried to tell the police I had to go to the transit area but I was told in no uncertain terms that I had to exit via baggage claims. I was honestly petrified. I had visions of being escorted off to quarantine but I wasn’t. The whole area was empty. I made my way to departures and every single airline desk was empty with no one, only two people at an information desk and security. It was 1.30pm and my flight wasn’t leaving until 02.25 am I explained my situation and they told me I had to wait until 11pm for the airline desks to be open before I could do anything. It was then that I went to the toilet and had a panic attack. I have never in my life felt so scared and so alone and so helpless. Even as I type this part of me is thinking, get over it Michelle, it’s nothing major but at the time I was just exhausted, stressed, scared and all sorts of emotions. Thank God my brother rang me and talked me out of it and my sister too. Soooo lucky to have the best siblings. Thank you John and Tara xx Again, even now as I type this I can feel it happening again. My heart is racing.
To say the wait in that departure lounge was agonising is the biggest understatement ever. There were no restaurants open, no shops, nothing. I felt very unsafe but I had no choice but to sit and wait. It took me a couple of hours to basically get my shit together and then …. I started sewing. All the times I have posted on my social media about mindful making and how relaxing sewing is, how good it is to calm the mind etc I always meant it but I can now confirm one hundred and fifty percent that it does. I can’t say the time flew by. It didn’t. It was agonising. But eventually it got to 11 o’clock and even though after all that waiting I still didn’t get my boarding pass from London to Heathrow so I had to just do it. I had to face immigration. You guessed it …. It was a breeze!!! After all that. They just asked me where I was travelling too, looked at my passport and that was it. The relief !! I cannot tell you. Unreal.
The rest is just a blur of desolate airports, eerily quiet, walking through empty spaces, shops boarded up, not a sound, no laughing, no excited people going on holidays. You could feel the tension in the air. The excessive hand washing, the weary looks in people’s eyes, the face masks, hazmat suits, all of it memories in my head like scenes from some movie. None of which I will ever forget.
Eventually I got to London and finally got my boarding pass to Dublin. I was exhausted – mentally and physically. I fell asleep the minute I was in my seat and before I knew it we had landed in Dublin. You guessed it I cried.
It’s funny how many people have asked me what happened at the airport. I think since the whole story about Keelings broke out it’s a big concern. I was asked at passport control where I was travelling from and advised to self quarantine for 14 days. I also filled in a form outlining these details and provided my contact details. Apart from that, no, there was no interrogation or any questions about how I was getting from the airport or anything like that. Just to confirm, I hired a car and I will be self isolating for two weeks at home, on my own, in my cottage.
So I drove home. It was the most beautiful evening. I can tell you that every single detail is blown up at the minute. The smell of the air, the colours of the fields, the sounds of the birds, every little detail is just an explosion to my senses.
It was so hard calling to my mum and talking to her from the car with the window half down. Not being able to hug here after all this time. The relief of actually being home.
Then driving down the road to my cottage! I kissed my pink door and I went from room to room like a kid on Christmas. Happy is just not enough of a word to describe how I feel right now. I am overwhelmed with relief. I know so many of you are sick to death of being at home but for me home is more than a place, it’s a feeling, and right now its the best feeling in the world!